Sep 162013
 

The story so far: In 1994 I created a series of promotional images for Magic: The Gathering. These pieces were meant for flyers timed for the ’94 con season, and the game’s first anniversary.

Unless you’re one of about a dozen people, you’ve never seen them before. To find out why, check out the prologue to this series.

The project was to be six images, one for artifacts, and one for each color of mana.

This time it’s Red.

5Color-BurningRed

Since Red is – among other things – the color of chaos, it seemed fitting that the creatures would be fighting amongst themselves, and of course firing off highly destructive red spells.

This is only the second time I ever painted goblins, the first time being the binder image shown in the prologue. Goblins, of course, have become a staple of Magic and a feature of my own career in the game. Back in ’94 the logical opposite to the goblins seemed to be dwarves, but by 2013 it’s fair to say that dwarves aren’t really a big component of Red and are thoroughly, exponentially, outnumbered by goblins. If I was creating this today, the dwarves probably would have been replaced with another race.

Red is also the color of fire and flame is especially tricky to paint with non-digital media. Generally, you need to get it right first time because the underlying white of the paper is vital to producing sufficient luminosity in the flame. I hadn’t quite learned that lesson yet but that’s the thing with any creative profession; you’ve got to make the mistakes to improve.

Red is also tied in with war and anger and that’s reflected in the planeswalker’s demeanor. I’d keep your distance, he’s not gotten his quadruple shot semi-skim latte this morning…

So, take a shot at naming all the cards in the image. I’m pretty certain that this one is far easier than the Artifacts piece. The answers to the cards in the red image are behind the cut –

Next time, we’ll continue clockwise around the mana circle to Green…

Burning questions? Okay, I’ll stop now, here’s your answers.

Sep 122013
 

In 1994 I created a series of promotional images for Magic: The Gathering. These pieces were meant for flyers timed for the ’94 con season, and the game’s first anniversary.

Unless you’re one of about a dozen people, you’ve never seen them before. To find out why, check out the prologue to this series.

The project was to be six images, one for each color of mana (the cornerstone of power and flavor in M:TG) and one extra for today’s subject – Artifacts.

5Color-Artifice

This is the general layout of all the pieces in the series; a color-themed planeswalker centrally framed and playing Magic cards, surrounded by creatures (and occasionally spells) of the appropriate mana color (or colorless in the case of Artifacts).

In addition to being given carte blanche with what to include in each image, I was also allowed free rein to extrapolate these creatures beyond what we’d seen previously in the confines of the card image window. Knowing that, don’t think of these as official versions of the creatures, just my take on them. Especially since I added a curved abdomen to the Dragon Engine in the hope of mirroring the curve of its neck but ended up just making it look pot-bellied! Win some, lose some…

An interesting wrinkle to all of this was that in ’94 all of the Magic artists still retained the copyright to their images. I think the working logic for this project was that they were free handouts and so didn’t require any special agreements, but if they’d been on retail products, then they’d have had to pay all the applicable artists a royalty. I think. Hey, it’s 19 years ago! I just know that Jesper would have done right by the artists like he always did.

Anyway, have fun trying to spot all of the cards referenced in this project. All six pieces pulled from cards from Alpha through The Dark. Feel free to post guesses here, on Facebook, Twitter or whatever Magic forum led you here. I’ll be curious to see if I’m able to sneak any by you.

Were you able to name all the cards in the artwork? The answers are below.

The next piece I’ll be debuting will be Red. Those of you that’ve read any interviews I’ve given, probably know that Red and Black are my favorite colors in Magic. So, we’re going to start at Red and work our way around the color wheel until we finish up at Black!

Click here to discover all the cards hidden in the image and a Quick FAQ

Sep 092013
 

Set the waaaay back machine to 1994. Many of you will be horrified to be reminded that was 19 years ago. I know I am.

I’d just finished the artwork for Antiquities, Legends and The Dark and the original art director of Magic – Jesper Myrfors – asked me if I’d like to do the cover illustration for the first official Magic: The Gathering card binder. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

The concept was simple: paint a wizard playing Magic and have him surrounded by creatures from all five colors of mana. Okay, easy enough…

Binder94

I wanted the wizard to have no mana bias so I had him playing an artifact. Bonus: it meant I got to paint the Stuffy Doll!

I remember struggling with the piece at the time. I was still pretty new to painting and making all the different elements work together while meeting the deadline was a tough undertaking. Here’s a little trivia about the piece –

  • This was the first and only time I got to paint an angel on an official WotC product.
  • This was the first time I painted goblins.
  • The card backs were the hardest part because I’m fussy about little details like that.

The piece is a fun bit of history for me but it also shows I was still trying to find my feet with painting. Take a look at the wizard’s hands and arms to see the iffy attempt at blending, let alone whatever’s going on with the Serra Angel’s forehead!

To me, the painting’s greatest significance is as the catalyst for a larger project. I’ll get to that in a moment.

After the binder piece, the next job I did for WotC was 26 (!) paintings for the launch set of the Jyhad CCG (later known as Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, or V:TES). Then came Fallen Empires and I remember when I finished Armor Thrull, I was struck with how much I’d improved since those first few paintings only five months previous.

One day, while on the phone with Jesper, (this was before people commonly used email to conduct business. Hell, it was ’98 before I had the internet in my home!) we got to talking about producing a series of flyers for Magic. These would be handouts for use at the major conventions and there’d be five different designs – one for each color of Magic. That soon became six designs as I pointed out that Artifacts deserved a flyer too.

Jesper was very keen on the idea so I set to work on finding and combining some of the coolest creatures and spells from those first few sets of Magic. I’d flown to Seattle and visited WotC only a month earlier so I was privy to the wondrous imagery in the entire Legends set even though it was still a month or two until it was available in stores.

Balancing a composition filled with a dozen or more disparate creatures only unified by their casting cost was no small task. But I loved it. It was a glorious jigsaw puzzle and it was only the very short deadline for such complex paintings that made the assignment so grueling.

Finally when the paintings were complete, I tried to call Jesper because I still didn’t have a contract, but I had to leave voicemail. Time went by and I heard nothing. Eventually I got to talk to Sandra Everingham who I discovered had become the new art director for Magic. Jesper had quit, and unfortunately in all that chaos, no one had been told what I was working on. No one was expecting the work. There was no contract. Magic was clearly doing so well it didn’t need flyers.

I never did get that contract. And I never got paid the $6,000 I was expecting to receive.

Now, to be clear, I don’t hold any grudges over this. Jesper had bigger things on his mind when he quit Magic and WotC in 1994, and no one else even knew the pieces were being made so why would I be annoyed with them?

But this was a cold hard lesson that I abide by to this day: “Always get a contract“. It sits at #2 right behind “Never work for free. Never work on spec. If you don’t value your work, why would anyone else?

Anyway, these six paintings have only been seen by a handful of people. They’ve NEVER been seen on the internet. Until now. Running twice a week starting this Thursday I’ll be debuting one of these pieces and we’ll be starting with that “Color #6” – Artifacts.

Stayed tuned. And be prepared for a scavenger hunt to find all the cards referenced in these paintings. It’s quite a few.

Minotaurs! No BS.

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Aug 272013
 

From The Maze…
I wrapped the artwork on Maze of Games a little over a week ago. The project became something much more intense, convoluted and altogether grander than we’d initially conceived. This is all for the good as the book’s author, Mike Selinker, has created a thoroughly fiendish puzzle-book (and novel).

I sat down with Mike for a quick chat about the artwork, and you can read all about it in one of the Kickstarter updates. I’ve posted my favorite piece – a rather gentlemanly minotaur – but if you’d like to see more art, just follow the link above.

Minotaur

…To The Grave
Next up, have you ever heard of Magic: The Gathering‘s graveyard?

No, not the one that’s in the game (or does it go by a different name now? I can’t keep up), but the art graveyard. This is where images that weren’t used on a card are placed in the hope of finding them a new home in another set. Usually these images find themselves without a home because the cards change a lot during development (which occurs at the same time as the art commissioning cycle) and sometimes the card they were created for is so radically changed that it needs entirely new artwork.

The worst fate for a card is to be “graveyarded” in the final set of a block while featuring a visual element that can’t be used outside that block. I have a Nezumi (rat creature) card meant for Saviors of Kamigawa that shared just that fate and will probably never see print.

Still, the biggest graveyard incident I can recall is when Unglued 2 was postponed after most of the art was already commissioned (no, I don’t remember why) and when it finally rose again as Unhinged, a large percentage of the art in the set couldn’t find a new home in the radically re-jiggered card selection. I had three Unglued 2 cards suffer that fate.

Usually, being stuck in the art graveyard means I’ll never be able to share that imagery with you unless it’s printed on a card some time in the future: The contracts are pretty firm on not showing unreleased art. However, something must have changed because recently Wizards ran an article on, coincidentally, minotaurs and they showed one of my unseen Unglued 2 pieces called “Fake I.D.”-

Fake ID

Bit of a surprise, but I’m happy to finally share this with you after… *peers at date on painting* …fourteen years! Good grief.

Oh, and I take full responsibility for the dumb jokes and continuity nods in the details of the “Udder Club” membership card.

Digging Deeper
Well, as you probably know, 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of Magic: The Gathering, and in the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing with you some art that was the next thing I did for M:TG after I wrapped up the combined commissions of Antiquities, Legends and The Dark. These pieces have never been seen on the internet before and frankly very few people have ever seen the art. They’ve also never been in the Magic art graveyard because… well, that’s all part of the story that I’ll share with you in the very near future.

A Tale of Two Kickstarters

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Mar 052013
 

Gatekeeper-thinSo, in an effort to be ridonkulously busy, I’m involved in TWO ongoing (and rather successful) Kickstarter projects!

Now, that’s not to say I’m running two Kickstarter projects simultaneously, they have rules against that…

In the first project – The Maze of Games – I’m the sole illustrator. Apart from handing in artwork I have no direct involvement with the Kickstarter page. That is all in the hands of puzzle-maestro, evil-genius and utter lunatic, Mike Selinker, who is the author of the book and all its fiendish puzzles.

Trust me, I’m not kidding about fiendish. The puzzles start off merely tricky but ramp up to ‘brain-spasm difficulty’ pretty quickly. There’s even a hidden puzzle on the Kickstarter page itself and regular puzzles in the updates. See previous statement about “utter lunatic”.

If you need to take your brain out for a bracing puzzle-filled marathon (with requisuite *headdesking*) be sure to check it out as it only has a few days left in its campaign.

The second Kickstarter launched a week ago today. I’m helping run the Kickstarter page and the Facebook page for it, and I’ve done a painting for it too. It’s a very special project to me as it’s for the 20th anniversary of Magic: The Gathering…

CommemorateThe Gathering is an art book featuring new art by over 30+ of the original Magic artists who’ve contributed a new painting for the book, most of them derived from one of their favorite / popular cards.

It’s especially big news because Wizards has never done an art book with a focus on the artists. Crazy, but true!

We debuted four pieces of art at launch and are periodically revealing more. If you know anyone who used to play Magic back in its earliest days, let them know about this book. Especially let friends know if they used to play Magic but have quit, because they may get a big kick out of this book and most of our current channels are probably not reaching them!

Nothing sadder than someone missing out on a Kickstarter that was something they’ve always wanted.

Okay, I’ll catch you after the craziness! Whenever that is.

The Maze of Games Launch!

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Jan 282013
 

The Maze of Games – an interactive puzzle novel written by Mike Selinker and illustrated by me – has just launched on Kickstarter!

Click the image below to head to the Kickstarter page!

Gatekeeper-Banner

Entering the Maze…

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Jan 252013
 

A quick update today.The first of the Kickstarter projects I’m involved with will be going live on Monday, Jan 28th!

It’s a puzzle book and a novel, or as the book’s author, Mike Selinker, puts it a “solve your own adventure” book.

And it’s called The Maze of Games.

Here’s links to Preview #1 about the book and Preview #2 about the creative team.

And your first full-sized look at the Gatekeeper…

Gatekeeper-Kickstarter

See you Monday!

Jan 172013
 

Looking back at 2012… well, I haven’t been around much on the blog, have I? A technical problem with what I wanted to do with the next blog post led to me putting it aside until I had time to work out what was up. Then I got busier.

Unfortunately two projects I was involved with look to be dead. One was an app which I did some graphic design work for, and the other was a charity art book similar in vein to the Transmetropolitan one I worked on back in 2011. It required copyright clearance from a licensee before we could proceed. We got the clearance and started on gearing up a very cool book only to have the licensee rescind the permission three months later, with zero explanation. One part of me just shrugs and says “them’s the breaks”, but another part thinks the licensee can bite me. Sorry, but it’s not worth the trouble to give specifics.

There was some CCG art for an app. Unfortunately, that’s not out yet so I can’t share that with you either. Sheesh.

Shedu_EPI did a cover for a local metal band called Shedu. Portions of the cover can be seen at the top of their webpage – which you can find right here. Give them a listen.

The image on the right is a quick something I whipped together for their EP. I should mention that the monster is my doing, not the band name treatment which is a friend’s handiwork.

Looking ahead into 2013, a couple of things that have been eating up my time these past few months are almost ready for prime time. Both are Kickstarter projects and both are books…

The first of these is a puzzle book that I’m illustrating. It should be launching on Kickstarter before January is out. More news on that soon.

The second Kickstarter project is an art book celebrating the original artists of Magic: the Gathering and commemorating the 20th anniversary of the game. It includes new art from 30+ of the original artists done especially for the book, along with anecdotes and insights into their art and their experiences with the game. It’ll be on Kickstarter very soon – hopefully February. When the launch is near, you will know. Trust me.

But for now, I’ll just leave you with a couple of links –

There’s now a site dedicated to Magic original art. They interviewed me and you can find that here at the Original Magic Art site.

iO9 ran an article on their favorite Magic art of the last twenty years. Alas, no mention of any of my pieces. Humph. Pitchforks in 3… 2… 1…

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with more info about my first Kickstarter project.

Mar 162012
 

As I mentioned yesterday, sometimes a piece of artwork I’m really proud of is lost to obscurity due to being attached to a common card. It doesn’t even have to be a junk common. Sometimes just being a regular common is enough for the artwork to fall off most players’ radars.

One such piece is Lys Alana Huntmaster from the Lorwyn set. Apparently this card was well received among players sporting elf decks of the time but the art never drew any significant interest.

The artists aren’t told the rarity of the cards they’re assigned anymore, but oftentimes – and with a little experience born of writing every Magic card art description for three years – I can make a pretty good guess. Why is this important? Well, if common cards are the red-headed stepchildren of CCGs, then it makes sense to focus your best efforts on the rare cards as that’s the art players will remember.

With that in mind, I try to make the art that’s destined for a rarer card more esoteric, more gnarly, more detailed or just plain more weird. I think if you’ve got two goblin cards and one’s a common and one’s a rare, regardless of the art description, the common goblin shouldn’t be too far from the average goblin depicted in the style guide, while the rare goblin should be a character, a paragon, an eccentric or a movie star, something that stands out from the herd.

Here’s the art description for the assignment:

Lys-Alana Huntcaller
Color: Green Creature
Location: Lys Alana, a large elvish ‘city’ in the Gilt-Leaf Wood. The Gilt-Leaf Wood is the forest considered most beautiful by the elves. The trees have a sap that elegantly coats the spaces between the bark, and when the sun hits it just right, it seems to be golden and shimmers as if gilded.
Action: Show an elvish noble who’s the city’s ‘master of the hunt.’ He has two striped dogs with him like the one in the styleguide. He’s blowing a ceremonial horn to call other elves to the hunt.
Focus: the elvish huntmaster
Mood: aristocratic, shrewd, elegant

So he’s an elf noble who holds a position of some seniority within this large elvish city? Totally sounds like at least uncommon material to me. If the art description had suggested he was any more important, I would have chosen rare. With that in mind, I start designing an elf who’s very upright and composed, one who has that quiet confidence that assurance of command can bring.

Here’s my first few attempts at the elf’s head;

Huntmaster Head Sketches

At first I was thinking of having the Huntmaster looking off into the distance, overseeing whatever task he was set to, but I soon came around to the idea of him making eye-contact with the viewer to drive home the confidence I wanted to convey. If I remember correctly, the Lorwyn elves weren’t the friendliest bunch which is why #2 is sporting a faint cruel smirk. #3 amps that up a bit to outright distaste. You may have noticed I’ve ejected the idea of him actually blowing the horn. Why? Well, the focus & mood entries in the art description are about how imposing this elf is, not about the activity of blowing a horn. You try to look elegant blowing hard on a wind instrument!

I’d nailed down the figure’s stance earlier and now came time to dress the elf. Lorwyn was a world of eternal midsummer so clothing tended to be sparse or open and airy.

Below is an initial sketch, followed by a figure sketch done digitally that would allow me to apply a variety of separate layers of outfits; the modern-day equivalent of a paper doll.

Figure round 1

Wow, those elves were thin. Next are a couple of stabs at the outfit. The second option seemed promising so I made several more iterations of the clothed figure…

Figure round 2

Looking back at these sketches now, I see that with the final version I pruned the design, removing some visual clutter – such as the knife wrapped around the leg – to aid legibility at final card size. For much the same reason, some of the other details became larger, such as the leaf drapery (shown in black) hanging off the cloak as it crosses his upper torso.

Here’s a closer look at the final drawing of the Huntmaster:

Final Figure

As you can see, his clothing is covered in stylized leaf and vine designs, with the ocasional bladed quality to their shape. Leaves are woven into his hair and form a faux beard too (that was a concept from the style guide I really liked) and even the pommel of his sword is shaped into a leaf design. Twigs are bound into the buttons of his gloves as a small show of ostentation rather than anything symbolic, or so my memory tells me. Finally, the horn is given exaggerated organic curves and bears a passing resemblance to a wyrm.

I’m not sure why I straightened the angle of his head. Perhaps I thought the tilt seemed a little coy and I wanted a more defiant look. Some decisions are pretty subjective and any other day I might have decided differently.

Next time, we’ll get into the actual painting of the gilded forest, and you can see just how easy it is to lose your mind with digital stippling.

Lots of dots

To be continued…

The Curse of Commonality

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Mar 152012
 

It’s true in every corner of the commercial art world that if your artwork is attached to a popular product then your art is going to benefit from that association. The popularity rubs off, so to speak.

It’s especially the case in Magic, and probably all collectible card games. If your art graces a hot (and most likely) rare card then you’re going to be able to sell more prints, charge more for the artist proofs and if you’re working in traditional mediums, ask a nice sum for the original art too. It’s all about demand.

In CCGs the opposite is also true. If your art ends up on an unpopular card then you may never sell a single artist proof unless you find a particularly masochistic player with a strange connection to the card. Hey, it’s happened…

But it goes further than that, the perceived value – that is to say the quality – of the painting itself is changed in the minds of the card buying public. I have some early paintings that aren’t remotely close to the quality I produce today, but they’re on popular cards and I sell prints of them at every show. And I have some paintings I’m really proud of that’ll never sell a print because of where they landed, usually a junk common that no one cares about.

And that’s the curse of commonality.

Tomorrow (yes, really, three updates in a week!) I’ll show you one of my favorite paintings that you may never have paid any attention to as it was lost to a junk common.

And as a footnote, even commons have their moment in the spotlight…

Image courtesy of the fiendish Magic Cards with Googly Eyes Tumblr where I have discovered my art is featured with frightening regularity.

Man, I think the eyes totally improved the Necrogen Censer. Just look at it, it’s absolutely cute now… like some raggedy left-for-wet Pokemon.